I Want To Be A Running Coach, But I’m Not Fast

We’ve mentioned this topic in our certifications, as well as in other blog posts – but given the number of people that reach out to us regarding this topic, I figured it’s worth dedicating a post to.

Go ahead and google ‘Running Coach‘ and click on the bio’s of coaches that come up. While you might see some mention of their education, the overriding theme is how fast they are by way of their race placings and PR’s. Experience is great… so long as a coach learns from each experience. However, in regard to being fast – it’s NOT a prerequisite to being a coach!

The two questions that we most often get are:

  1. I’m not a fast runner so how will clients take me seriously?
  2. Can I only coach runners at my level/speed/ability or lower?

Let’s address the first question….

Sure, there are potential clients out there that only want to train with elite and/or former elite athletes – it’s just how it is. The thought process being that if the coach is fast, they can help the client get fast too! If you get an inquiry from a potential client whose primary focus is how fast you are, you likely don’t want them as a client. If a potential client does not place education, professionalism and experience ahead of PR’s and race placings, this is not the type of client you want.

You should be taken seriously due any number of things, including, but not limited to your education, references, professionalism, coaching philosophy, experience, and last but not least… client results!

As for question number two, how many coaches can outperform their athletes? Likely none. Can Bill Belichick outplay Tom Brady? Not a chance. However, by the nature of the question, coach Belichick should only be coaching middle school, or perhaps Pop Warner football. Do I need to go on?

So why is he the coach? Two primary reasons, both of which are multifactorial:

  • Results
  • Experience

STUDENT OF THE SPORT

It’s the position of UESCA that the most important factor in being a ‘good’ coach is being a student of the sport. What exactly does this pertain to?

  • Stay up to date on running-related research and information
  • Understand how the body functions in relation to running
  • Don’t take a training theory or practice at face value – question everything!
  • Want to understand the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s’ of training theories and methodologies
  • Thoroughly analyze training files of clients to seek out trends and patterns that might be applied to other clients
  • Use every personal workout as a learning experience
  • Willingness to change and adapt when presented with new and improved training information
  • Stay humble and appreciate that you’ll never know everything in respect to coaching and training

EXPERIENCE

Experience is an important factor, so long as a coach knows how to use the information. The most important thing to keep in mind is that clients will respond differently to the same training stimuli. Meaning, just because a training method worked with one client does not necessarily guarantee that the same method will work with another.

Therefore, so long as a coach understands how to interpret and apply the data from past clients, it can be a valuable resource – and of course, the more data points (i.e. past clients) there are, the more valuable the information becomes.

GENETIC FACTOR

No one is arguing that a 2:20 marathon isn’t an amazing time and an athlete who could run this fast was no doubt well prepared. There is one other factor though… being able to run that fast also likely has a large genetic component.

Just like you don’t become a rocket scientist with a low IQ, you also don’t become a world class runner with an average ‘engine.’ Yes, to run a 2:20 marathon requires hard training but it also requires winning the genetic lottery in regard to physiology and biomechanics.

While I’m not saying that an elite runner cannot be a great coach, what I am saying is that it’s entirely possible that since running comes so easily to an elite runner, they might not fully understand how to instruct a client on how to run ‘properly’ and how to progress a runner effectively and safely. Lastly, an elite runner/coach needs to appreciate that their personal workouts are will not be the right choice for a non-elite runner.

CONFIDENCE AND COMFORT

You have to be comfortable with the level at which you are coaching. While you might have the requisite knowledge and experience to coach an elite runner, maybe you want to focus on beginners – fine. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable coaching an elite runner due to a lack of experience – fine.

The main takeaway here is that whatever level(s) of runner you coach, you must feel confident and comfortable that you can get results for them.

SUMMARY

There are so many things that go into being a great coach, however, your ability to out-run your clients isn’t one of them!


Rick Prince is the founder of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science/evidence-based endurance sports coaching education company that certifies running and triathlon coaches.

To learn more about our Running Coach Certification and to get a code for $50 off, click here!

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